Quite, easily,very, hard

Edith Senkel
Quite, easily,very, hard
Ashes were not heavy. They can be carried, he thought; he should be able to handle that.
Her eyes. Big, blue, no tears. A look.
Old wrinkled hands, clasped together tightly, unusually tight.
“Go up there with me!” she had said.
He knew it then. She didn’t need to let go.
Her eyes, moments later. Big, blue, no look.

Up there. Many years they had gone up there. Up there.
Fleet-footed, at first. Together, always together. Even today.

Can’t breathe, can’t breathe. He has to stand still, prop himself on his knee, take the backpack off, carefully, with a nearly tender motion.
He doesn’t want to look at it.
Breathe, deeply – in, out. Don’t think.

He concentrates on a hawkweed. It’s a glowing yellow. The humming of bees, long grass rustling in the summer wind.
“Because it smells like freedom up there,” she always said.
He shoulders his load again.
Right, freedom. As if.
“Onward, old man!” she had always said, brushing his shoulder lightly in passing. As though by accident. But only as though.
Breathing is becoming a problem. He feels so breathless.
Can I make it? He asks himself.
Eighty-one. The hiking years are over. Have been for a long time.
The cancer did not hike willingly. It liked to lay in bed with her.
She did not like to swear. “Naughty boy,” she had called the cancer. Naughty boy. Ha! Butthead would have been better. That’s what young kids say. Twat. Turdface. Ok. But, naughty boy?! No one can pamper the enemy in such a way.
She lay in bed with the naughty boy and looked out of the window upwards, longingly upwards.

He sat on the edge of the bed as though chained there and watched while she vanished. She looked like a small bird. Skin as thin as paper. Skinny limbs.
The window wide open. The stench of helplessness hung in the room regardless of how often he changed the sheets.
Now he laughs, that naughty boy, that shithead.

Step for step. Was it always this steep?
Suddenly everything is black for a second.
“Somehow it goes on,” she had always said.
He coughs. An inhalator would be nice. Forgetfulness, misery.

Her cloth handkerchief. White lace. He smells it. Sweat in his eyes. He wipes it in her smell. Onward, onward.

People walk towards him. Two large, one small, all singing. Something about an upside down buttered bread in a river. Delightful nonsense. He smiles. Unusual feeling.
Turning to the side, looking at the child and seeing his curiosity. Joy, what inner joy.
They always wanted children. Then they would not be so alone at the end, with the naughty boy.
There remains a feeling of unknown loss of experiences never lived.

The song fades away into the distance.
The backpack is like a boulder, every step a hardship, burning lungs.
The urn digs into his shoulder blade. He had it cremated, the naughty boy. Her as well, because she wanted to go up there, onto her mountain. Freedom.
The view over the lake, where the mountain simply stops. He doesn’t know how far down. Far enough, a vertical wall.
“Hardly bearable, this beauty,” she had always said.
Then mountain cheese, a loaf of bread, a bottle of beer, the first sip always the best.
Her smile, her face turned to the sun. No path too steep.
After every spat: upwards. Upwards! To her spot. There, very near the summit cross where the cliff drops away, simply drops.
Almost there. But now comes the climbing. The light is already turning red. It doesn’t have to get dark now, he thinks.

“I’ll outlive you,” she had always said. But back then she had not yet known the naughty boy.
He thinks about the radiance of her eyes, before. About Wiener Schnitzel and her Sacher Cake. With strawberry jam, just that once. And about the can of pea soup yesterday. It made him shiver.
He grips the rock, pulls his weight up a little higher. Wheezing breath, whistling and rasping. Is that him?
Not much further. I have to be able to carry that, he thought, about the urn on his back.
He sees the cross now, up there, just a little piece of eternity away. Sciatica, another thing.

Being there. Arrival. Breathlessness. Sunset atmosphere. He sets the backpack down with a gentle motion. The drops are not sweat as he touches the cool metal. Actually pretty light, an urn. He takes it out. Even as he touches it, he is still stunned.
“I can hardly bear how beautiful it is,” she had always said.
He takes out the beer as well, along with a thick slab of bread and cheese.
The first gulp. Always the best. Her handkerchief. Crying into her smell.
Then the funeral feast. A thick slice of bread. Chew, swallow, live.
At the end, the naughty boy had not even let her eat, not even that. A special nutritional diet dripped into her stomach to counter her lack of energy.
He burps. The bottle is empty.

Standing up. Hardly able to. His back.
Taking the urn. Slowly walking to the edge. There, where everything drops.
The cross behind him, light fading. She would have loved this.
But not the naughty boy. But he didn’t like anything, except struggling along like a cancerous crab.

Once more he gathers himself.
Her eyes. Blue, so blue. Sparklingly alive. Sitting across from one another. Waterfalls of words. Hand in hand. Golden silence.
It was good now.
He opened the urn. Dust and ashes. Everything is strewn down, around – and up.
Nothing is left.

Slowly it gets dark.
I don’t have a flashlight anyway, he thinks.
Now if I just lean forward it should be easy enough.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell
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